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The Grape Pioneer

Twenty-five years later, the wine world finally catches up to Berkeley’s Kermit Lynch.


Published:

Mitch Tobias

 

Kermit’s Picks
2012 Vino Bianco Secco
Grangia
Elvio Tintero
Light, fresh, gay, and snappy:
Whistle while you cook.
$12

2010 Corse Calvi Rouge
E Prove
Domaine Maestracci
One of the top domaines on Corsica: a complex, rustic red for Mediterranean food.
$22

2010 Gigondas
Les Racines
Domaine Les Pallières
A mouth-filling red from a region known for big wines: Pallières is also renowned in France for its unusual finesse.
$49

Check out the wine list at any trendy new restaurant these days, and you’re as likely to find a light, food-friendly French Côtes du Rhône as you are a heavy, oak-laden Napa Cab. Or maybe, as even longtime Berkeley wine seller Kermit Lynch experiences, you’ll find bottles you’ve never seen before.

“Wine lists today are nothing like they were—even 10 years ago,” he says. “Sometimes, even I have to ask, ‘Where does this come from?’ ”

This explosion in diversity can, in many ways, be traced back directly to the little wine shop Lynch has been running on San Pablo Avenue—first in Albany, then in Berkeley—for 41 years. He began noticing that more and more winemakers were manipulating their final product toward trendier “pop wines,” which tend to be fruity and cheap, with a high alcohol content.

His travels to France inspired Lynch to write Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France, a seminal treatise extolling the less manipulated, more natural, terroir-driven wines he loved. (The book was recently reissued on the 25th anniversary of its publication.)

“One of the things that always struck me about wine was how diverse it was,” says Lynch. “Have a little light Muscadet with oysters, and you can make magic. Or pair a big steak with a big, heroic Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It just seemed to me that the wine world was going toward one monotone style of wine.”

Luckily for Lynch, he chose a good place to row against the prevailing tides: counterculture Berkeley. It also didn’t hurt that Chez Panisse, which opened within months of his wine store, started buying his imports. (Lynch and Alice Waters remain close friends and are godparents to each other’s children.)

Sure, it probably would have been more lucrative to bow to the popular trends of the day: “There’s no question about that,” he says, laughing. But Lynch stayed the course and has been rewarded. The wine world has slowly come around to his kind of thinking.

“Honestly, a lot of it came down to selfishness,” he says. “I wanted to drink the best wines that I could, so I did everything I could to make sure that was possible.”  

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, 1605 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, (510) 524-1524, kermitlynch.com.

 

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